Hello everyone, and welcome back!
It’s spooky season, so it seemed like a good time to pick up Malinda Lo’s latest book, A Line in the Dark, which was pitched as a psychological thriller. I’ve been waiting a while to pick up something by this author, because in theory she sounds like the perfect author for me (queer rewritings of fairy tales! advocacy for diversity in YA!), but in practice, the reviews of her books are…mixed. So I thought I’d wait until I could have a totally fresh perspective and pick up her newest (and, I hoped, best) work.
So with that said, let’s get into it!
A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
I don’t know if I’m making it a habit to comment on covers, but look. This is one of the most gorgeous covers of the year, okay.
So, like I said, this book was pitched as a psychological thriller. It’s about Jess Wong, her best friend Angie (who she has a deep crush on), Angie’s new girlfriend, Margot, and a lot of gossip and catty stuff that segues into a mysterious missing person situation.
This book is…okay. I mean, on one hand, it’s good. The Jess perspective kind of nails the feeling of having a crush on your best friend but feeling too unattractive/insecure to come out with it, and also feeling not at ease with your body and your queerness because of what others expect of you. It also really got at a class divide between the characters and how that changed the way they perceived one another, and it gave Jess a particular racial/ethnic background (Chinese-American) without making that her single defining trait. Jess’ interactions with her family were also interesting, although disappointingly limited. Margot seems appropriately sinister, and Angie…well, that might be the weak link, because I wasn’t really sure what the deal was with Angie other than that she was pretty and nice and queer and could get along with people, and if I understood her character better, this novel might have worked a bit more, since a lot revolves around her.
The best way I can describe this book is that it feels unfinished. (Yes, it is another short book.) It segues between Jess’ perspective to a third-person perspective somewhere two thirds in, and it’s not really clear why? Margot does a variety of sinister things throughout the novel, but it never quite feels like that comes to a confrontation or like we ever quite understand her motivations for dating Angie in the first place. Ryan, Margot’s bff, has a significant secret that doesn’t really seem to do a lot in the narrative, and she herself doesn’t do a lot in the narrative despite having a significant presence in the beginning. Emily is a character who exists, but doesn’t seem to do anything other than warn Jess that Margot is shady, which was disappointing. Jess’ comic seems like an interesting metaphor for the events of her life, but even though she heavy-handedly expresses certain sentiments in it (like her codependent friendship with Angie), other aspects of her art and how they reflect the story remain kind of weird to understand, even in the end.
This is one of those books that leaves a major event mysterious, then slowly lets things unfold and pulls the answer further and further away as it drops red herrings. The issue with the eventual reveal is that it feels somewhat abrupt. I think if we understood the characters involved a bit better, it might have gotten us more invested in the ending “twist.” Because we (mostly) get Jess’ perspective, it’s not too hard to figure where she’s coming from, but we never really get much insight into Angie, Margot, or the other significant female characters, so it’s hard to make any informed predictions. Some characters who could be suspects in the whodunnit are so undeveloped and out of the picture that they don’t make viable suspects for a reader (since they’re so hardly mentioned), which makes the mystery less mysterious (and the time the police take investigating them and the time that takes in the story seem like a waste).
All in all, this was never boring to read, but the time I spent reading towards payoffs (Jess and Angie having a real talk/confrontation about the state of their friendship, someone calling out Margot on her badness, Jess talking to her family about the difference between their expectations and her reality, Emily spilling the tea, etc.) felt a little wasted by the end, since a lot of those things never really came along.
Gorgeous cover aside, this book wasn’t really a home run with me, as much as I wanted to like it. I don’t think it’ll bore you, and it’ll definitely keep you guessing towards the end, but it’s not exactly the Pretty Little Liars-esque tangle of spooky happenings and dark teen secrets (plus queer girl romance) that I was hoping for. (It’s kind of one spooky happening plus toxic love triangle plus some people are jerks to one another but we don’t really know where they’re all coming from on that.)
Do you have any spooky-themed reads lined up for this season? Do you have any thriller/horror favourites? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!